A $1 million pilot scheme aimed at boosting the reporting of local democracy issues across New Zealand has been launched by an alliance of publishers, RNZ and NZ On Air.
Under the scheme, eight journalists will be recruited to provide local democracy news to a wide array of media. Funding will come from the RNZ/NZ On Air Innovation Fund, a one-off $6m fund announced last year.
The purpose of the pilot is to fill gaps in the reporting of local bodies and other publicly-funded organisations, mostly in regional New Zealand, brought about by significant decreases in reporting numbers in traditional media.
The concept is similar to a partnership forged in the UK between the BBC and British publishers, under which 150 reporters have been hired across Britain to strengthen the reporting of local issues. The British scheme has been funded from the BBC's broadcasting licence fee.
In New Zealand, the partnership has been negotiated between the Newspaper Publishers'
Association (NPA), RNZ and NZ On Air.
RNZ chief executive Paul Thompson said the organisation had already brokered a number of content-sharing partnerships with different media and the Local Democracy Reporter (LDR) service was an extension of that.
"We've changed the thinking in an industry that has been highly competitive in the past to enter new content-sharing partnerships that have proved to be mutually beneficial and of significant public value.
"The objective is to give the New Zealand public an independent, impartial news service, delivered on as wide a range of media platforms as possible. To extend this in partnership with the newspaper industry is an important step forward."
While local democracy reporters will be employed by newspaper companies, all the stories generated by those reporters will be made available to RNZ and other qualifying media, including competitors.
NZ On Air chief executive Jane Wrightson says it is a timely intervention.
"NZ On Air's role is to ensure public media funding addresses gaps in the market. It has become increasingly clear that New Zealanders want and need more reporting on the issues at home that affect them, and that the commercial news market is finding it difficult to meet these needs."
NPA editorial director Rick Neville said the new reporters would be required to report solely on publicly-funded local institutions such as local councils, council committees, community boards, council-owned commercial enterprises, district health boards, local trusts, publicly owned ports and the like.
To qualify for LDR funding, the participating news organisation will need to belong to the NPA and satisfy stringent criteria. The reporters will be trained in multi-media journalism and their content will need to come under the jurisdiction of the Media Council or Broadcasting Standards Authority.
The salary costs of the eight reporters will take up the largest share of the $1m fund. The balance will cover the costs of the service manager, to be employed by RNZ, and other RNZ costs.
The funding is guaranteed for 12 months. Any funding beyond that will depend on the success of the pilot.